Originally at: https://github.com/cirosantilli/write-free-science-books-to-get-famous-website but being migrated here.
Ciro is looking for:
- university teachers who might be interested in trying it out as described at Section 2. "Action plan", especially those who already use open licenses for their lecture notes
- funding possibilities for this project, including donations as mentioned at Section "Sponsor Ciro Santilli" and contracts
The initial incentive for the creators is to make them famous and allow them to get more fulfilling jobs more easily, although Ciro also wants to add money transfer mechanisms to it later on.
We can't rely on teachers writing materials, because they simply don't have enough incentive: publication count is all that matters to their careers. The students however, are desperate to prove themselves to the world, and therefore will do a lot of free work for the fame reward.
Ciro envisions this as a Wikipedia-like website, but where:
If you are a software engineer, you can see that this is basically a cross between Wikipedia, GitHub and Stack Exchange.
- each user can have their own version of each page which cannot be edited without their permission, e.g. only
cirosantillican edit http://elearning.com/cirosantilli/mathematics
- you can copy and modify other users' pages, since Creative Commons license will be mandatory. You can also make suggestions to their page if you want to.
- each page has an issue tracker/comment section at the bottom to allow for sane discussion about the subject. As opposed to Wikipedia's unusable talk pages.
- more granular pages than Wikipedia: every single header has its own page/metadata, no matter how specific the topic it covers is
- you can upvote and downvote the headers/pages
For example, Ciro could have his pages organized as:
- http://elearning.com/cirosantilli/mathematics "Mathematics"
- http://elearning.com/cirosantilli/calculus "Calculus"
- http://elearning.com/cirosantilli/limit-mathematics "Limit (mathematics)"
- http://elearning.com/cirosantilli/riemann-integral "Riemann integral"
- http://elearning.com/cirosantilli/intuition-behind-the-reimann-integral "Intuition behind the Reimann integral"
- http://elearning.com/cirosantilli/calculus "Calculus"
- http://elearning.com/cirosantilli/physics "Physics"
Then, anyone would be able to create their own version of the pages, e.g. user John Smith could create:
Here for example, John decided:
- to remove
limit-mathematicsfrom his tree
derivativeto his tree
intuition-behind-the-reimann-integralat Ciro's version
physicsto his liking
The key intended technical innovation of the website is a PageRank-like algorithm that answers the key questions:
However, Ciro has decided to leave this for phase two action plan.
- what is the best content for subject X.For example, if you are reading
cirosantilli/riemann-integraland it is crap, you would be able to click the button
Versions by other authorswhich leads you to the URL: http://elearning.com/subject/mathematics. This URL then contains a list of all pages people have written about the subject
mathematics, sorted by some algorithm, containing for example:This URL would also contain a list of issues/comments that are related to the subject.
- who knows the most about subject X. This can be found by visiting: http://elearning.com/users/mathematics "Top Mathematics users", which would contain the list of users sorted by the algorithm:
Many subjects have changed very little in the last hundred years, and so it is mind-blowing that people have to pay for books that teach them!
More than that however, if such project succeeds, it could fundamentally change the way university is organized, enormously improving its efficiency.
If computers are bicycles for the mind, Ciro wants this website to be the Ferrari of the mind.
In some ways, Ciro wants the website to feel like a video game, where you fluidly interact with headers, comments and their metadata. If game developers can achieve impressively complicated game engines, why can't we achieve a decent amazing elearning website? :-)
- Table of contents | 1k, 7k, 20
- 1. Motivation | 2k
- 2. Action plan | 323
- 3. Alternatives | 174, 3k, 8
- 4. Funding | 0, 337, 6
- 5. Manifesto | 307
The beauty of those subjects has always felt like intense sunlight in a fresh morning to Ciro. Sometimes it gets covered by clouds and obscured by less important things, but it always comes back again and again, weaker or stronger with its warmth, guiding Ciro's life path.
As a result, he has always suffered a lot at school: his grades were good, but he wasn't really learning those beautiful things that he wanted to learn!
School, instead of helping him, was just wasting his time with superficial knowledge.
Ciro once asked a chemistry teacher some "deeper question" after course was over, related to the superficial vision of the topic they were learning to get grades in university entry exams. The teacher replied something like:
You remind me of a friend of mine. He always wanted to understand the deeper reason for things. He now works at NASA.Ciro feels that this was one of the greatest compliments he has ever received in his life. This teacher, understood him. Funny how some things stick, while all the rest fades.
Another interesting anecdote is how Ciro Santilli's mother recalls that she always found out about exams in the same way: when the phone started ringing as Ciro's friends started asking for help with the subjects just before the exam. Sometimes it was already too hopelessly late, but Ciro almost always tried. Nothing shows how much better you are than someone than teaching them.
Then, after entering university, although things got way better because were are able to learn things that are borderline useful.
Ciro still felt a strong emotion of nostalgia when after university his mother asked if she could throw away his high school books, and Ciro started tearing them all down for recyling. Such is life.
University teachers were still to a large extent researchers who didn't want to, know how to and above all have enough time and institutional freedom to teach things properly and make you see their beauty, some good relate articles:
The very fact that you had very little choice of what to learn so that a large group can get a "Diploma", makes it impossible for people to deeply learn what the really want.
Also extremelly frustrating is how you might have to wait for years to get to the subject you really want. For example, on a physics course, quantum mechanics is normally only taught on the third year! While there is value to knowing the pre-requisites, holding people back for years is just too sad, and Ciro much prefers backward design. And just like the university entry, it creates an entry barrier situation where you might in the end find that "hey, that's not what I wanted to learn afer all", see also: students must have a flexible choice of what to learn.
And all of this is considering that he was very lucky to not be in a poor family, and was already in some of the best educational institutions locally available already, and had comparatively awesome teachers, without which he wouldn't be where he is today if he hadn't had such advantages in the first place.
But no matter how awesome one teacher is, no single person can overcome a system so large and broken. Without technological innovation that is.
The key problem all along the way is the Society's/Government's belief that everyone has to learn the same things, and that grades in exams mean anything.
Ciro believes however, that exams are useless, and that there are only two meaningful metrics:
Even if you wanted to really learn natural sciences and had the time available, it is just too hard to find good resources to properly learn it. Even attending university courses are hit and miss between amazing and mediocre teachers.
If you go into a large book shop, the science section is tiny, and useless popular science books dominate it without precise experiment descriptions. And then, the only few "serious" books are a huge list of formulas without any experimental motivation.
Around 2012 however, he finally saw the light, and started his path to open source software Enlightenment.
Firstly, he was introduced to LaTeX, and his mind was blown:
Ha, so I can write my own books, and so can anyone, for free?he though. Why isn't everyone doing that!
The brutal openness of it all. The raw high quality content. Ugliness and uselessness too no doubt. But definitely spark in a sea of darkness.
University was not needed anymore. He could learn whatever he wanted. A vision was born.
To make things worse, for a long time he was tired of seeing poor people begging on the streets every day and not doing anything about it. He thought:
He who teaches one thousand, saves one million.which like everything else is likely derived subconsciously from something else, here Schindler's list possibly adapted quote from the Talmud: "He who saves the life of one man saves the entire world.".
So, by the time he left University, instead of pursuing a PhD in theoretical Mathematics or Physics just for the beauty of it as he had once considered, he had new plans.
We needed a new educational system. One that would allow people to fulfill their potential and desires, and truly improve society as a result, both in rich and poor countries.
And he found out that programming and applied mathematics could also be fun, so he might as well have some fun while doing this! ;-)
The steps are sorted in roughly chronological order. The project might fail at any point, and some steps may be carried in parallel:
- make Cirodown good enough, to the point that it allows to create a static version of the website, which is used to prototype certain ideas, and for Ciro to start writing test content.Status: almost finished.
- create a basic implementation of the website, without advanced features like PageRank sorting and WYSIWYG. This is not much more than a blog with some extra metadata, so it is definitely achievable with constrained resources.
- find a university teacher would would like to try it out.Ciro would like to volunteer to work for free for this teacher and students to help the students learn.He would like act like a "super student" who has a lot of free time and motivation.Ciro would start by mapping the headers of the lecture notes onto the website, and then slowly adding content as he feels the need to improve certain explanations.Finding teachers willing to allow this will be a major roadblock: how to convince teachers to use CC BY-SA.If such enlightened teacher is found, it will allow for the initial validation of the website, to decide what kind of tweaking the idea might need, and start uploading quality technical content to the site.
- once some level of validation as been done, Ciro will start looking for charitable funding more aggressively
- if things seem to be working, start adding more advance features: PageRank-like sorting and WYSIWYG editingThe recommendation algorithms notably is left for a second stage because it needs real world data to be tested. And at the beginning, before Eternal September kicks in, there would be few posts written by well educated university students, so a simple sort by upvote would likely be good enough.
These are websites that offer somewhat overlapping services, many of which served inspirations, and why we think something different is needed to achieve our goals.
- https://handwiki.org/wiki/HandWiki:About: technically the same as Wikipedia, but with more aligned moderation policies
- https://ecotext.co/ similar goals. Their website seems quite broken now though as of 2021, can't see text properly. Crunchbase entry: https://www.crunchbase.com/organization/ecotext says they are from Durham, New Hampshire, United States. Cannot see how to publish, curated material only? Twitter: https://twitter.com/ecotextinc?lang=en One of the founders: https://twitter.com/BigNel_21 | https://www.linkedin.com/in/ecotextnelsonthomas/. Their LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/ecotext/people/
- https://fiveable.me/ bad: separates students and teachers, as a student I don't see where to create my content. Good: focus on teaching university level stuff to people outside of university via Advanced Placement. Bad: Lots of video content. Bad: Can't see the issue tracker attached to each page.
- You don't get any/sufficient recognition for your contributions
- The stuff you wrote can be deleted anytime by some random admin/opposing editor
- Scope too limited, and politics defined. Everything has to sound encyclopedic and be notable enough. This basically excludes completely good tutorials.
- Insane impossible to use markup language-base talk pages instead of issue trackers?! Ridiculous!!! That change alone could make Wikipedia so much more amazing. Wikipedia could become a Stack Exchange killer by doing that alone + some basic reputation system.
This edit perfectly summarizes how Ciro feels about Wikipedia (no particular hate towards that user, he was a teacher at the prestigious Pierre and Marie Curie University and actually as a wiki page about him):
rm a cryptic diagram (not understandable by a professional mathematician, without further explanationswhich removed the only diagram that was actually understandable to non-Mathematicians, which Ciro Santilli had created, and received many upvotes at: https://math.stackexchange.com/questions/776039/intuition-behind-normal-subgroups/3732426#3732426. The removal does not generate any notifications to you unless you follow the page which would lead to infinite noise, and is extremely difficult to find out how to contact the other person. The removal justification is even somewhat ad hominem: how does he know Ciro Santilli is also not a professional Mathematician? :-) Maybe it is obvious because Ciro explains in a way that is understandable. Also removal makes no effort to contact original author. Of course, this is caused by the fact that there must also have been a bunch of useless edits not done by Ciro, and there is no reputation system to see if you should ignore a person or not immediately, so removal author has no patience anymore. This is what makes it impossible to contribute to Wikipedia: your stuff gets deleted at any time, and you don't know how to appeal it. Ciro is going to regret having written this rant after Daniel replies and shows the diagram is crap. But that would be better than not getting a reply and not learning that the diagram is crap.
Another one: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Finite_field&type=revision&diff=1044934168&oldid=1044905041 on finite fields with edit comment "Obviously: X ≡ α". Discussion at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Finite_field#Concrete_simple_worked_out_example Some people simply don't know how to explain things to beginners, or don't think Wikipedia is where it should be done. One simply can't waste time fighting off those people, writing good tutorials is hard enough in itself without that fight.
It is also for this reason why Ciro basically only contributes images to Wikipedia: because they are either all in or all out, and you can determine which one of them it is. And this allows images to be more attributable, so people can actually see that it was Ciro that created a given amazing image.
Wikipedia is perfect for things like biographies, geography, or history, which have a much more defined and subjective expository order. But when it comes to "tutorials of how to actually do stuff", which is what mathematics and physics are basically about, Wikipedia has a very hard time to go beyond dry definitions which are only useful for people who already half know the stuff. But to learn from zero, newbies need tutorials with intuition and examples.
Stack Exchange solves to a good extent the use cases:
Major shortcoming are mentioned at idiotic Stack Overflow policies:
- Scope restrictions can lead to a lot of content deletion: closing questions as off-topicOn our website, anyone can post anything that is legal in a given country. No one can ever delete your content if it is legal, no matter their reputation.
- Although you can answer your own question, there's no way to write an organized multi-page book with Stack Exchange due to shortcomings such as no table of contents, 30k max chars on answer, huge risk of deletion due to "too broad"
- Absolutely no algorithmic attempt to overcome the fastest gun in the West problem (early answers have huge advantage over newer ones): https://meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/404535/closing-an-old-upvoted-question-as-duplicate-of-new-unvoted-questions/404567#404567
- Native reputation system:
- if the living ultimate God of
C++upvotes you, you get
- if the first-day newb of
Javaupvotes you, you also get
- if the living ultimate God of
- Randomly split between sites like Stack Overflow vs Super User, with separate user reputations, but huge overlaps, and many questions that appears as dupes on both and never get merged.
- Possible edit wars, just like Wikipedia, but these are much less common since content ownership is much clearer than in Wikipedia however
The main shortcoming of blogs is the lack of tag convergence across blogs. Each blog is a moderated castle. So who is the best user for a given tag, or the best content for a given tag, across the entire website?
The only reasonable free material we have for advanced subjects nowadays are university lecture notes.
While some of those are awesome, when writing a large content, no one can keep quality high across all sections, there will always be knowledge that you don't have which is enlightening. And Googlers are more often than not interested only in specific sections of your content.
Our website aims to make smaller subjects vertically curated across horizontal single author tutorials.
It is arguable that this is currently the best way to learn any university subject, and that it can already be used to learn any subject.
We basically just want to make the process more efficient and enjoyable, by making it easier:
- to find what you want based on an initial subject hit across the best version of any author
- and to publish your own stuff with one click, and get feedback if people like it or not, and improvement suggestions like you do you GitHub
One major problem with lecture notes is that, as the name suggests, they are merely a complement to the lecture, and don't contain enough detail for you to really learn solely from them without watching the lecture.
The only texts that generally teach in enough depth are actual books, which are almost always commercial.
So in a sense, this project can be seen as a path to upgrade free lecture notes into full blown free books, from which you can learn from scratch without any external material.
A major difficulty of getting such this to work is that may university teachers want to retain closed copyright of their work because they:
- want to publish a book later and get paid. Yes, the root problem is that teachers get paid way too little and have way too little job security for the incredibly important and difficult extremely difficult job they are doing, and we have to vote to change that
- are afraid that if amazing material is made freely available, then they would not be needed and lose their jobs. Once again, job security issue.
- believe that if anyone were allowed to touch their precious content, those people would just "screw it up" and make it worse
- don't even want to publish their notes online because "someone will copy it and take their credit". What a mentality! In order to prevent a theft, you are basically guaranteeing that your work will be completely forgotten!
- don't want students to read the notes and skip class, because spoken word has magic properties and imparts knowledge that cannot otherwise conveyed by a book
- are afraid that mistakes will be found in their material. Reputation is of course everything in academia, since there is no money.So it's less risky to have closed, more buggy notes, than open, more correct ones.This can be seen clearly for example on Physics Stack Exchange, and most notably in particle physics (well, which is basically the only subject that really gets asked, since anything more experimental is going to be blocked off by patents/interlab competition), where a large proportion incredibly amazing users have anonymous profiles.They prefer to get no reputation gains from their amazing contributions, due to the fear that a single mistake will ruin their career.This is in stark contrast for example to Stack Overflow, where almost all top users are not anonymous:List of top users: https://physics.stackexchange.com/users?tab=Reputation&filter=all and some notable anonymous ones:
Therefore the only way is to find teachers who are:
The forced option therefore seems like a more bulk efficient starting point for searches.
- enlightened to use such licenses
- forced by their organizations to use such licenses
No matter how much effort a single person puts into writing perfect tutorials, they will never beat 1000x people + an algorithm.
It is not simply a matter of how much time you have. The fundamental reason is that each person has a different background and different skills. Notably the young students have radically different understanding than that of the experienced teacher.
Therefore, those that refuse to contribute to such platforms, or at least license their content with open licenses, will inevitably have their work forgotten in favor of those that have contributed to the more open platform, which will eventually dominate everything.
Perhaps Write free books to get famous website is not he killer platform that will make this happen. Perhaps the world is not yet ready for it. But Ciro believes that this will happen, sooner or later, inevitable, and he wants to give it a shot.
Some possible/not possible sources that could be used to manually bootstrap content:
- OpenStax: CC BY. This could be a great entry point, as they already have some university integration going on, and might be interested in this project.
- https://github.com/vEnhance/napkin: CC BY-SA mathematics infinite book: https://github.com/vEnhance/napkin/issues/77. Very similar type of content to what we want in this project!
- https://physics.stackexchange.com/questions/6157/list-of-freely-available-physics-books "List of freely available physics books" explicitly asks for:
a list of physics books with open-source licenses, like Creative Commons, GPLbut the thread was locked, and basically none of the sources in the answers have free licenses, nor do they note it. It just seems that the physicists don't know what a free license is.
- MIT OpenCourseWare: CC BY-NC-SA, so not really usable
- https://open.ed.ac.uk/about/: talk only
- https://github.com/certik/theoretical-physics: MIT License. Workable but wonky.
- https://subwiki.org/: wiki with some upper graduate math subjects presumably by this Indian dude: https://www.linkedin.com/in/vipul-naik-0ab1898/. Description on his homepage: https://vipulnaik.com/subwiki/. He's also got other interesting but not so relevant projects:He's also into Stack Overflow, Quora and Wikipedia editing. That's a cool dude. He's into in LessWrong it seems.
Also worth checking:
- https://jornal.usp.br/universidade/usp-de-sao-carlos-oferece-aulas-de-graduacao-em-matematica-e-estatistica-abertas-ao-publico/ "Open Classroom" program from the University of São Paulo. We should Google for "Open Classroom" a bit more actually.
This website basically aims to be a learning management system, allowing in particular a teacher to focus his help on students that he is legally obliged to help due to their job. But it will have the following unusual characteristics in current LMS solutions:
- public first, to allow reuse across universities, rather than paywalled as is the case for most top universities
- students can create material just like teachers, both are on equal footing. Students/teachers will see an indicator "this is your teacher"/"this is your student for this/past semester", but that is the only difference between their interfaces.
But there is one major problem with that: the entry barrier for new contributors is very large.
If they submit a pull request, Ciro has to review it, otherwise, no one will ever see it.
Our amazing website would allow the reader to add his own example of, say, The uncertainty principle, whenever they wants, under the appropriate section.
Then, people who want to learn more about it, would click on the "defined tag" by the article, and our amazing analytics would point them to the best such articles.
- Semantic Web
- https://physicstravelguide.com/ Nice manifesto: https://physicstravelguide.com/about by Jakob Schwichtenberg.
- https://www.ft.com/content/5515ec3e-0040-4d90-85a9-df19d6e3ebd2 (archive) Twilio’s Jeff Lawson: an evangelist for software developers
You can never be first. But you can have the correct busines model. That company's website must have gone into IP Purgatory, and could never be released as an open source website.As a student at the University of Michigan, he started a company that made lecture notes available free online, drawing a large audience of Midwestern college students and, soon enough, advertisers. At the height of the dotcom bubble, he dropped out of college, raised $10m from the venture firm Venrock and moved the company to Silicon Valley.His start-up drew interest from an acquirer that was planning to go public early in 2000. They closed the acquisition but missed their IPO window as the market plunged, and by August the company had filed for bankruptcy. Stock that Lawson and investors in his start-up received from the sale became worthless.The website was called https://stubhub.com/, as of 2021 the domain had been sold to an unrelated website.He might actually be interested in donating to Write free books to get famous website if it move forward now that he's a billionaire.
OK, just going random now:
Once the ball starts rolling, these are people who should be contacted.
Basically anything under educational charitable organization counts.
It is also worth having a look under the Wikipedia page for open educational resources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_educational_resources
Start with consulting for universities to get some cash flowing.
Help teachers create perfect courses.
At the same time, develop the website, and use the generated content to bootstrap it.
Choose a domain of knowledge, generate perfect courses for it, and find all teachers of the domain in the world who are teaching that and help them out.
Ensure that the content can be downloaded as text, so that if this project fails, we can just upload everything to GitHub, and not all is lost.
Then expand out to other domains.
TODO: which domain of knowledge should we go for? The more precise the better.
- maths is perfect because it "never" changes. But does not make money.
- computer science might be good, e.g. machine learning.
If enough people use it, we could let people sell knowledge content through us.
Teachers have the incentive of making open source to get more students.
Students pay when they want help to learn something.
We take a cut of the transactions.
However this goes a bit against our "open content" ideal.
Forced sponsorware would be a possibility.
Would be a bit like Fiverr. Hmmm, maybe this is not a good thing ;-)
Don't like this very much, but if it's the only way...
Maybe focus on job ads like Stack Overflow.
- like YouTube, pay creators proportionally to views/metrics
- paid subscription to remove ads from site
Maybe we should talk to innovative schools, as they might be more open to such use of technology.
Education has become an expensive bureaucratic exercise, completely dissociated from reality and usefulness.
It completely rejects what the individual wants to achieve, and instead attempts to mass homogenize and test people through endless hours of boredom.
And the only goals it achieves are testing student's resilience to stress, and facilitating the finding of sexual partners. True learning is completely absent.
Teachers only teach because they have to do it to get paid, not for passion. Their only true incentive is co-authoring papers.
We reject this bullshit.
Education is meant to help us, the students, achieve our goals through passionate learning.
And, we, the students, are individuals, with different goals and capabilities.
The way we protest is to publish the knowledge from University for free, on the Internet, so that anyone can access it.
And we do this is a law-abiding way, without copyright infringement, so that no one can legally take it down.
We come to our courses just for the useless roll calls. But we already know all the subject better than the "teacher" on the very first day.
And we are already more famous than the "teacher" online, and through the Internet have already taught more way way more people than they ever will.
The effect of this is to demoralize the entire school system at all levels, until only one conclusion is possible: implosion.
And from the ashes of the old system, we will build a new one, which does only what matters with absolute efficiency: help the individual students achieve their goals.
A system in which the only reason why university exist will be to allow the most knowledgeable students to access million dollar laboratory equipment, and to pay the most prolific content creators so they can continue content creating.
No more useless courses. No more useless tests. Only passion, usefulness and focus.
Crush the current grossly inefficient educational system, replace today's students + teachers + researchers with unified "online content creators/consumers".
Gamify them, and pay the best creators so they can work it full time, until some company hires for more them since they are so provenly good.
Destroy useless exams, the only metrics of society are either:
- how much money you make
- how high is your educational content creator reputation score
Reduce the entry barrier to education, like Uber has done for taxis.
- Aaron Swartz
- Accounts controlled by Ciro Santilli
- Ciro Santilli's bad old event memory
- Ciro Santilli's formal education
- Ciro Santilli's Homepage
- Ciro Santilli's minor projects
- Ciro Santilli's self perceived compassionate personality
- Ciro Santilli's Stack Overflow contributions
- Ciro Santilli's website
- Collaborative writing platform
- Don't be a pussy
- Free gifted education
- How Ciro Santilli manages to write so much
- How to teach
- Open knowledge
- Paul Dirac
- Popular science
- Reply to Stack Overflow is doomed posts
- Social inequality
- Sponsor Ciro Santilli
- Stack Overflow content deletion
- Steve Jobs' 2005 Stanford Commencement Address
- Students must have a flexible choice of what to learn
- The missing link between basic and advanced
- The most important projects Ciro Santilli wants to do
- Unconditional basic income
- Website front-end for a mathematical formal proof system
- Make your education system more efficient
- Why Ciro Santilli refers to himself in the third person
- Why you should give money to Ciro Santilli
- Write free books to get famous website is number one
- How to convince teachers to use CC BY-SA | 939
- Other projects | 302